I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but have you actually ever read Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”? If not, you probably should -- it’s an important read for anyone, but especially community professionals.
First published in 1936, it is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide to date. Sure, you’re probably skeptical of self-help books -- they have a bad rap, and there are definitely plenty of poorly written, unhelpful books filled with empty promises out there.
But this isn’t one of them.
There’s a reason this book, written by a poor Missouri pig farmer’s son turned writer, has stayed relevant all these years. The book’s wisdom runs deep and, at it’s core, is about becoming a genuine, empathetic person.
It’s divided into several sections (all of which are helpful for community professionals), but here’s a quick recap of the first section, “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People”:
1. Don't criticize, condemn or complain
Quote: “Criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home.”
As Dale Carnegie said, “When people are criticized or humiliated, they rarely respond well and will often become defensive and resent their critic.”
In other words, scolding doesn’t work. It only makes people resent you and push back harder. So what do you do when you see questionable community behavior, and your first instinct is to criticize?
Dale Carnegie used this example: a construction manager is angry that the people on his site don’t wear their hard hats. At first, he tells them with gusto and authority, that they need to comply with the rules. The men grumble, put on their hard hats and take them off as soon as he rounds the corner. The construction manager decides to take a different approach. Rather than scold, he asks them why they don’t want to wear their hats. Are they uncomfortable? Do they need a different size? He reminds them it’s for their safety, and suggests they wear them. His change in tactics resulted in a higher compliance and no resentment.
How does this translate to your community? When you see members continually break rules -- whether it’s a copyright infringement or posting self-promotional ads -- stop yourself before you criticize. Is there a better way of getting them to comply that won’t brew resentment and actually enact change?
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t correct unhealthy behavior, but it means you should do so in a way that doesn’t attack or belittle. When dealing with people, you deal with emotions, not logic. Therefore, even if your argument is logically sound, it might strike emotional dissonance if worded the wrong way, causing resentment and digging in. Think about your language and assume good intent -- don’t blame or call the person out too publicly.
You can even take this to heart in your community guidelines. Instead of detailing what people can’t do, explain and show examples of what they can do. This demonstrates trust and doesn’t put people on the defensive before they’ve even begun engaging.
2. Give Honest and sincere appreciation
Quote: “... There is one longing -- almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep -- which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls ‘the desire to be great.’ It is what Dewey calls the ‘desire to be important.’”
It really is that simple. People want to feel important. And this simple yet profound fact is incredibly useful for motivating people. Different things make different people feel important -- one person won’t feel important until they’ve published an academic article, while another feels important if three people up-voted their comment -- but it all stems from the same place.
This ties back to a well-known psychological theory on intrinsic motivation. If you really want to motivate people and create habits that stick, they need to be motivated by something within themselves, not an outside prize.
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Think about motivating kids to be active -- one kid plays soccer just because they want a prize at the end of each game, and the other plays because they feel like an important member of the team. Take away the prize, who is going to keep playing? That’s intrinsic motivation.
Feeling important is a strong intrinsic motivator. Create a community environment in which people know they’re valued and know their contributions are important. It doesn’t mean you give everyone who comments a gold star -- but it does mean nurturing discussions so people feel comfortable contributing and know their voice matters.
3. Arouse in the other person an eager want
Quote: “I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer. Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms.”
Although it’s a funny example, it makes perfect sense -- don’t give people what you want, give people what they want. Just because you like things to run a certain way, or think one discussion topic is better than the other, doesn’t mean your community members will feel the same way. And if they don’t like it, it won’t work -- just as strawberries and cream will never work for fishing, no matter how delicious the strawberries are.
In your community, listen to what your members say and watch what they’re actions tell you. Is your community strategy in line with what your members need and want? If not, reconsider how the community bridges the gap between your organization and members -- are you only serving one side?
Giving members what they want doesn’t mean you need to reconsider your community’s fundamental strategy. It could be as little as letting members add communities they want, or start off-topic discussion they think is fun. Not only does it make members happier and find more value in the community, but it connects and bonds members on a deeper level, strengthening your community.
Understand your audience
The entire first section of Dale Carnegie’s book can be summarized easily: treat others as they want to be treated. It’s the golden rule, right?
What Dale Carnegie proposed isn’t radical, but it’s surprisingly hard to enact -- we get caught up in our own emotions, forget about others, and react impulsively. Remember what he said about logic? Just as emotions, not logic, affect how others behave, the same is true for your behavior.
Dale Carnegie doesn’t want you to ditch emotions and only look at the world logically. Who knows if that’s even possible for most people. No, instead he wants you to let go of your emotions, just a little bit, and consider the other person’s. What drives them? Why did they react the way they did?
The most fundamental technique in handling people is to think of others.